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Kelowna  

Mayor, ex-mayor sniping

A war of words is brewing between Mayor Colin Basran and former mayor Sharon Shepherd. At issue, who has done what to combat homelessness in Kelowna.

Shepherd fired the first volley across the bow of the current administration in a letter sent to the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce last week.

In that letter, she stated some of the work done during her six years as mayor from 2005 to 2011 is no longer being done.

She pointed to a 28-point drug and alcohol plan recommended by the 4 Pillar Coalition. This included the hiring of a drug co-ordinator through the RDCO and construction of three supportive housing complexes.

"So what has happened?" asked Shepherd.

"A 4 Pillar strategy is no longer in place. The co-ordinator position is no longer in place. Community court led by Judge Anne Wallace who recently passed away and supported by the RCMP, health, and social service representatives is no longer in place. Homelessness awareness week is no longer in place. A community and provincial priority to deal with homelessness is no longer in place."

She said a Housing First strategy session, a plan being touted as the way to go in the city, was held in Kelowna two years ago.

Due to those initiatives, Shepherd said homelessness issues improved, and the work should not have stopped.

"It is time to review those strategies and rehire a co-ordinator. It is time to once again have community action and ongoing government commitment that did make a difference. The homelessness strategy that was in place should never have ended."

Mayor Colin Basran and Coun. Luke Stack both took exception to Shepherd's comments.

Initially, Basran said he didn't want to get into a war of words, then shot from the hip.

"Quite some time has passed since she has been in office, so it would be easy to see why she wouldn't be aware of a lot of the things that are taking place," Basran said following Monday's council meeting.

Then, he attacked her record.

"If councils of her time had actually taken direction from her, we'd actually have less housing," said Basran, pointing to the Cardington Apartments on St. Paul Street.

"She often has been an advocate of housing, but in that particular case, she voted against it because it upset some of her friends that owned property in the neighbourhood. Kudos to her council of the day for having the courage to make a tough decision, which we now know has proven to be a great success."

Former councillors Andre Blanliel and Norm Letnick (now Kelowna-Lake Country MLA) also voted against the Cardington Apartments.

During open council, Basran pointed to several achievements.

"This council has never stopped working on ways to generate more housing options for people of all income levels.

"Contrary to information cited in some reports last week, Kelowna has not stopped taking a 4 Pillar approach to homelessness. We continue to enforce the laws. People who need treatment continue to receive aid. We continue to work on crime prevention and reduction, and we continue to fund and partner on housing for the homeless."

He said three projects are either underway or have been recently completed that address the homeless population or people at risk in the community. A fourth, proposed by the Okanagan Metis and Aboriginal Housing Society is currently working its way through City Hall.

Coun. Luke Stack also threw down the gauntlet, stating it was the work of then-mayor Walter Gray that secured funding needed for the projects Shepherd mentioned.

He said it was then, while Gray was a member of the Mayor's Task Fore on Homelessness, that the city dedicated four sites and struck a deal with the province to attract about $30 million in investment to help address homelessness.

"All Sharon and her council had to do was stay the course," said Stack in a letter of response.

"I am not saying Sharon did not play a role in addressing the problem, she did. But others before her laid the ground work for these housing first projects to be built in the first place. This is how city council works, each council builds on the work of earlier councils. The current council is no different."

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